Children's Voice Mar/Apr 2008

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Getting Creative: Exchanging Academic Credit for Postadoption Services

The process of searching for an adult adoptee's birth parents is sometimes so challenging it takes the skills of a detective agency. Spaulding for Children, a small private agency in Houston, would love to hire one, if it had the money. Instead, the agency has come up with what it considers to be a viable alternative--graduate social work students.

Through a partnership with the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work, Spaulding typically hosts three social work students in its office every semester. The students receive academic credit in exchange for working closely with Spaulding staff on foster care, adoption, and postadoption services. Spaulding is one of two agencies in the Houston area that has a contract with the state to provide postadoption services.

"We have really found students to be an indispensable part of our services," says Spaulding Postadoptions Program Manager Marilyn Barnes.

Although the interns are exposed to all aspects of Spaulding's postadoption services work, Barnes says, the search and reunion process is what students seem to enjoy the most. Many have come of age during the Internet era, so conducting intricate online searches for birth parents doesn't intimidate them. The interns also have the time to devote to complicated searches. One intern recently helped an adult adoptee find a family member on MySpace after the adoptee had been looking for his birth family for years.

Once the students track down birth parents or other family members, they work to get the appropriate releases and write letters--under Barnes's close supervision--in preparation for a reunion.

"They bring fresh, wonderful new ideas and skills, and I feel that it really enriches our program," Barnes says of her interns. "I just always learn a lot from them, plus they are right there at the university, learning all the latest information."

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